Thousands sign petition criticizing Chicago fire commissioner

SHARE Thousands sign petition criticizing Chicago fire commissioner
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More than 2,300 people have signed a petition criticizing Chicago Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago in connection with the suspension of one of his lieutenants for refusing an order.
| Ashlee Rezin/For Sun-Times

More than 2,300 people have signed a petition criticizing Chicago Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago in connection with the suspension of one of his lieutenants for refusing an order.

Lt. Steven Spallina refused an order to send members of the fire department into an area where he suspected they might come into contact with Ebola, the deadly disease, according to union officials.

Spallina was suspended for 60 days, but on July 12, arbitrator Jacalyn Zimmerman overturned the discipline. She ruled he “was not guilty of insubordination,” the union said in a recent letter to members.

The letter said Zimmerman decided Spallina could disagree with an order he believed would endanger the health and safety of him or other employees, the union said.

“We were recently informed that the department is going to seek to have the arbitrator’s decision overturned on the basis that it is against ‘public policy ’ — that the firefighters would stop doing their ‘inherently’ dangerous jobs because of this decision,” the letter said.

On Sept. 21, the executive board of Chicago Fire Fighters Union Local 2 declared a vote of no confidence in Santiago and urged members to sign a petition expressing disappointment “in the CFD’s decision to challenge this final and binding arbitration award,” according to the letter.

In a text message, Tom Ryan, president of the union, told the Chicago Sun-Times: “Local 2 is expected to honor arbitrator’s rulings — good or bad. Arbitrator Zimmerman was very clear in her ruling that Lt. Spallina was vindicated and should be made whole. The petition is in response to this CFD action.”

The union represents the city’s 4,645 rank-and-file firefighters and paramedics. It’s unclear how many of the signatures on the petition belong to members of the Chicago Fire Department.

Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford refused to comment on the petition drive. Instead, he issued an emailed statement defending Santiago’s decision to order a lengthy suspension.

“Lt. Spallina was given a 60-day suspension for insubordination after not following a direct order,” Langford wrote. “We continue to evaluate our legal options and the decision has not yet been made on whether to appeal the arbitrator’s decision.”

Santiago is a former Marine decorated for his service in Vietnam and Operation Desert Storm. He ran the 911 center in the final year of former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration.

Santiago returned to the fire department under Mayor Rahm Emanuel as a deputy commissioner. In 2012, Santiago was appointed fire commissioner, a $202,000-a-year post. He replaced Robert Hoff, one of the most decorated firefighters in city history.

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